Millennials, that generation of individuals that I am so fortunate to be a part of — born some time between the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s — do a lot of things differently than our previous generations.
We care more about the environment, are passionate about finding work that is meaningful to us, have been labeled “narcissistic,” practice less organized religion, and of course, live lives deeply ingrained in technology.
We also, somewhat surprisingly, are more likely not to get married.
For the first time in history, the millennial generation has the lowest marriage rate of any previous generation. According to a recent report, more than 30% of millennial women are on track to stay unmarried even at the age of 40. What exactly is going on? Is there a reason that more millennials aren’t getting married?
Carriage Before Marriage
One factor in the millennial trend to put off marriage may be the fact that so many millennials are also having babies — without rushing into shotgun marriages or worrying about getting married before the baby carriage comes along. Over half of all births for women under the age of 30, for example, occur outside of marriage, a situation I know all too well. And although it’s hard to say which comes first, the theoretical chicken or the egg, putting off marriage and having kids could cause more delays to marriage, or couples could simply be eschewing marriage altogether once their families are already in place.
Nikki Addimando, a millennial mom who discovered she was pregnant outside of marriage, was adamant that there would be no “shotgun” weddings in her future. “The topic of marriage did come up briefly,” she says. “I basically squashed it before it could develop. I distinctly remember saying, ‘Don’t ask me to marry you, just because I’m pregnant’.”
Unlike previous generations, kids outside of marriage are considered “normal” and aren’t an automatic reason to put a ring on it.
Millennials may also simply have different priorities when it comes to marriage; the perfect day doesn’t matter as much as cultivating a lasting relationship or a satisfying life, whether together or individually. “I’ve always wanted to have babies, but I never really had that desire to get married,” explains Addimando. “I never fantasized about my wedding day, or the perfect dress, or cake. I’ve always thought about having children though.”
Children may be a priority, but for millennial couples like Addimando and her partner, marriage simply isn’t. “We’ve been ‘together’ for longer than some married couples are, before they have children. We just don’t have a piece of paper that proves it,” she says. “[Marriage is not] really on my list of ‘things to do’ right now.”
Children of Divorce
As many millennials grew up in divorced households, they may also be more hesitant to take the plunge into tying the knot. “Maybe many of us watched our own married-yet-unhappy parents, and we thought, ‘What’s the point?'” comments Addimando. “Maybe it’s just more socially acceptable now, than it was before.”
However, millennials still value marriage and the bonds it stands for. “Just because I’m not married, doesn’t mean that I don’t respect it, and all that it stands for,” explains Addimando. “I believe that marriage means love and commitment, sharing and compromising, learning and giving, and (most hopefully) forever. All of those components are very important, but I don’t think that it’s impossible to have those things just because you aren’t legally married. I know that to some people, it’s incredibly important to be married before having children. Since it doesn’t phase me too much, I don’t think I have much business running off to get married, until it does!”
For millennials, everything is just on a little different time table — from delayed college graduation to more time spent crashing at Mom and Dad’s, to bouncing between jobs before finding the one, it’s inevitable that marriage might be one of those things that gets delayed, too. But at the end of the day, while millennials may not be racing down the aisle, they are still focusing on the stuff that matters in life: family.
“He has a mommy, and a daddy, and a whole lot of love,” says Addimando on how she explains her family unit to her young son. “The only real difference I see, is that Mommy has a different last name. I honestly don’t think it’s going to be a very big deal. I also think it’s important for children to learn diversity on all levels. Families can be united in so, so many ways. We’re all different, and yet we’re all the same.”
Image via Picnick Photography